Vegans can build muscle equally to an omnivore diet provided all essential amino acids are provided. Consuming greater than 1.6g/kg of protein per day. If the protein intake is high enough, it does not matter whether it comes from plant or animal sources, and muscle growth will occur equally.
VEGAN BODYBUILDING DIET SUMMARY
- A vegan bodybuilder diet resulted in similar gains in muscle mass as an animal-based diet when adequate essential amino acids are consumed. Consuming high quality vegan protein sources is essential for gaining muscle.
- A bulking vegan diet or gaining weight on a vegan bodybuilding diet can be accomplished by a calorie surplus to ensure optimal protein synthesis.
6/14/2022: BEYOND MEAT COOKOUT BURGERS HAVE LOWER AMINO ACIDS THAN REGULAR BEEF
It has become clear that a large range of meat alternatives are hitting the market that is plant-based. Many vegan bodybuilders have jumped on the beyond meat wagon and have been enjoying a plant-based meat alternative. Beyond meat has plant-based foods such as beyond meat hotdogs, beyond meat sausage patty, and beyond meat cookout burgers.
This plant-based product category is perceived to have advantages in its environmental footprint, sustainability, animal welfare, and allied consumer perceptions. However, the digestive efficacy of plant-based foods compared to meat-based foods remains to be determined.
Beyond Meat Vegan Bodybuilding Diet
Researchers had subjects consume either pasture-raised beef (Pasture), grain Finished beef (Grain), pasture-raised lamb (Lamb), or a Beyond Burger™ (Beyond Meat), a plant-based meat analog. The test meal was a burrito-style wrap containing meat or Beyond Burger, fresh and canned vegetables, tomato salsa, and seasonings in a flour tortilla. The amount of pasture, grain, lamb, or Beyond Burger was 220 g raw (.160 g cooked).
Each participant consumed 1 of 4 test meals on 4 occasions, separated by a washout period of at least 1 week. The test meals were matched for fat and protein content. The total protein concentrations of all 4 cooked meals were similar between each.
At the end of the study, despite having similar protein, the plasma Essential Amino Acid responses were very different. EAAs responses were 133% greater in Lamb, 123% greater in Grain, and 75% greater in Pasture when compared with Beyond Burger.
EAAs- Lamb>Grain beef>Pasture beef>Beyond Burger.
The responses looked like this for EAAs- Lamb>Grain beef>Pasture beef>Beyond Burger. Concentrations of plasma Total Amino Acids, BCAAs, EAAs, and non-essential amino acids were significantly lower after the Beyond Burger meal than in red meat meals. So if the total protein intake was similar, why did the Beyond Burger fail to raise amino acids compared to the meat groups?
The researchers suggested that the differing responses to protein meals could reflect lower digestibility of plant proteins due to anti-nutritional factors (e.g., trypsin and chymotrypsin inhibitors, phytates, polyphenols) or digestion-resistant networks formed between ingredients. There were no significant differences in appetite and fullness responses when similar quantities of protein were consumed (48–58 g).
In sum, plant-based foods may mimic the taste of meats, but their amino acid bioavailability is lower than red meat. (37) Vegan bodybuilders should look to other high quality protein sources to build muscle.
5/14/2022: Research Update: Is Plant Protein or Whey Protein better? How to Increase the Bioavailability of Plant Proteins
It is well known that animal-based proteins have a greater potential for increasing protein synthesis than plant proteins because of higher essential amino acid content.
Protein digestibility is affected by components such as protein structure, amount of fiber, protease inhibitors, and anti-nutritional factors, such as phytates, lectins, polyphenols, and non-starch polysaccharides, which are part of the intrinsic composition of plant foods.
As a result, plant proteins, analyzed mostly in their raw and unprocessed form, have a lower observed digestibility (75-80%) compared to proteins of animal origin (90-95%).
Plant proteins can have similar increases in protein synthesis to animal-based proteins when the amount or serving size is increased in a meal. It has been proposed that the leucine amount necessary to increase muscle protein synthesis requires ≥ 2.5 g/meal with three meals per day for a daily total of .7.5 g of leucine in older populations.
Vegan Bodybuilding Diets Needs EAAS
The ideal amount of Essential Amino Acids and leucine to stimulate muscle protein synthesis is ~10.9 g of EAA and ~2.7 g of leucine, which can be achieved with a dose of 25 g of whey protein. The amount of plant protein that needs to be ingested to achieve the same 2.7 g leucine as in 25 g whey protein is: 20 g corn, 33 g potato, 37 g brown rice, 38 g pea, 40 g soy, 45 g wheat, 47 g oat, or 105 g hemp.
To achieve sufficient quantities of certain EAA and promote muscle protein synthesis, vegan bodybuilders must include portions of different foods to adequate quantities of limiting amino acids. Vegan bodybuilder should use complimentary plant-based proteins for optimally gaining weight on a vegan diet.
For example, combining rice with legumes provides a complete amino acid spectrum. Increasing plant proteins can have many beneficial health benefits due to significant amounts of nutrients such as fiber, vitamins, minerals, carotenoids, flavonoids, unsaturated fatty acids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants, which are associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and all-cause mortality.
Increase EAAs on a Vegan Bodybuilder Diet
The limitations of plant proteins summarized for increasing muscle protein synthesis are due to lower EAAs and leucine contents, lower protein bioavailability, and lower protein content per serving. All these can impact how muscles grow over a period of weeks to months. However, these limitations of plant proteins can be overcome by combining different food groups throughout the day to ensure an adequate intake of all EAA and leucine needed for muscle hypertrophy.
Also, using processes that increase the bioavailability of plant proteins, such as preparation and cooking techniques; and by increasing the serving sizes of plant foods or isolated plant proteins, since the lower protein content is also accompanied, in most cases, by the lower protein density. (36)
INTRODUCTION TO RAW VEGAN BODYBUILDING DIET
When most people hear the word vegan diet, they immediately think of a healthy diet. Vegan diets have numerous health benefits, such as reducing cardiovascular disease, cancer risk, diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.(1-3) Despite the popular myth that all vegan bodybuilders are healthy, you can eat an unhealthy vegan diet just like any other diet.
A healthy vegan bodybuilders needs to maintain a healthy weight should comprise whole foods, vegan rich proteins, and healthy fats such as olive oil and nut butter. If a person is looking to lose weight, reducing calories gradually is the important for healthy weight loss.
For example, one study found that found those who ate healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits/vegetables, nuts/legumes, oils, tea/coffee) had lower cardiovascular disease than those that ate less healthy plant foods (juices/sweetened beverages, refined grains, potatoes/fries, sweets).(4) Vegan diets are usually higher in carbohydrates and fiber than omnivore diets (i.e., Eat red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, and eggs) but lower in fat than omnivorous.(5) One should remember that not all vegan diets are equal. There are several types of vegan diets:
- · Lacto-vegetarian: Eats dairy, but no red meat, poultry, fish, or eggs
- · Ovo-vegetarian: Eats eggs but no red meat, poultry, fish, or dairy
- · Pesco-vegetarian: Eats fish, but no red meat, poultry, dairy, or eggs
- · Lacto-ovo-vegetarian: Eats dairy and eggs but no red meat, poultry, or fish
- · Vegan: Eats only plant-based foods (no red meat, poultry, fish, dairy, or eggs)
There is another subset of vegan called raw veganism. A raw vegan will be only eating completely raw or heated foods at temperatures below 104–118°F (40–48°C). Like a vegan diet, eating raw uncooked foods is very likely to result in more or less serious health problems, depending on how good your health was before adopting it.
Although conflicting in many studies, the research suggests that vegan diets may have an advantage for endurance-based exercise and a disadvantage for strength training. However, scientific research has failed to show a robust difference in physical performance between diets. (6)
In a study of 56 women who were either vegan or omnivores, there were no negative effects on physical performance (i.e., strength or aerobic capacity). Both groups had similar body fat and lean mass. In fact, vegan women had higher aerobic capacity than omnivores.(7)
Lean Muscle Gainer Vegan Diet
Contrary to what you have heard, you can build muscle by eating vegan food similar to cooked foods, a meat-eating diet. In the early 2000s, plant proteins (i.e., soy protein) got a bad reputation when researchers found that soy protein resulted in less gains in lean mass than a milk-based protein.
However, the soy protein consumed post-exercise had only 18 grams of protein, which is less than the optimal dose to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (i.e., > 20 grams).(8) A well-designed plant-based diet can be as effective as a meat-eating diet.
Animal proteins are higher in quality and contain a full spectrum of essential amino acids compared to proteins from plant sources, resulting in greater increases in protein synthesis.(9) Plant-based sources of protein also contain anti-nutritional factors, such as phytate and fiber, decreasing the digestibility of protein.(10)
The amino acid profile of plant-derived protein can be improved by combining plant sources, and greater amounts can result in enhanced protein synthesis.(11) It was found that to match the EAA density of an omnivore diet, a vegan protein-matched diet needed an additional 300 calories.(12)
Vegan meal prep ideas for muscle gain should include more protein or sources that have adequate amounts of essential amino acids. High protein vegan breakfast bodybuilding foods include great recipes such as peanut butter chia overnight oats, breakfast burritos, hummus toast, greek chickpeas on toast., and breakfast quinoa with chai-spiced almond milk.
Best Supplements for Muscle Gain and Fat Loss on a Vegan Diet
More protein is needed because most plant-based foods contain lower levels of leucine needed to maximize protein synthesis.(13) The threshold for leucine per meal to maximize protein synthesis is around 2-3 grams, and older adults need more.(14, 15) To further emphasize the importance of leucine for muscle protein synthesis, a low-protein of protein (6.25 grams) supplemented with 5 grams of leucine in a mixed macronutrient beverage can increase muscle protein synthesis as effectively as a high-protein beverage (25 grams).(16)
One may wonder if adding leucine to meals is the driving factor for protein synthesis, but this does not seem to be the case. When muscle protein synthesis responses to wheat, whey, and casein protein were measured, larger dosages of wheat protein resulted in greater increases in protein synthesis despite having similar leucine content.
This suggests that the leucine content alone of the protein source may not be the only amino acid responsible for increasing muscle protein synthesis rates.(17) Some suggest that leucine (i.e., 2.5 grams) mainly acts as the “spark” for initiating the protein synthetic machinery. Other amino acids would assist in the process of supporting protein synthesis.(18) Thus, a complete spectrum of amino acids is needed for protein synthesis; isolated amino acids such as leucine or BCAAs alone, will yield an inferior protein synthesis response.
Vegan Bodybuilders Need More Protein
Similar studies have found that whey protein increases protein synthesis better than an equal dose of essential amino acids.(19) A review by Berrazaga et al. recommended that when consuming plant-based proteins, especially older athletes should:
a.) Increase protein intake to at least 30 g per meal,
b.) Supplement with indispensable amino acids (leucine specifically) with meals, and
c.) Blend plant-based protein sources to ensure high protein quality.(20)
Getting Enough Protein Intake on Vegan Bodybuilding Diets
Vegans need more protein to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Researchers compared a chicken breast to a plant-based meat substitute (i.e., a lysine-enriched wheat and chickpea protein product). Both meals contained 40 grams of protein, but the meat substitute was larger (i.e., 230 grams) to compensate for equal the protein in the chicken breast (i.e., 174 grams).
The meat substitute was also higher in calories (i.e., 307 kcals) than the chicken breast (i.e., 191 kcals). Both meals increased protein synthesis equally, with no differences between the groups over five hours.(21) In a study that compared total protein intake between vegans and animal-based proteins, animal protein was correlated with lean muscle mass, whereas plant proteins were not.
Lack of EAAs is A Muscle Killer
The author suspected that the lack of essential amino acids could have led to reduced protein synthesis and lower skeletal muscle mass in the vegans.(22) Similar findings have been reported in older adults randomized to a lacto-ovo-vegetarian diet (i.e., milk and eggs) who had lower increases in muscle mass after resistance exercise than men who consumed an omnivorous diet (i.e., beef, poultry, pork, fish).(23)
The author suspected the low protein intake of .8 g protein per kg of body weight in the lacto-ovo-vegetarian group may not have been high enough to elicit increases in muscle mass.
The most commonly cited supplements advocated to enhance performance with vegan diets are vitamin B12, creatine, beta-alanine, zinc, iron, omega-3 fatty acids (EPA/DHA), vitamin D, and calcium.(24, 25) In a study, subjects were randomized to three different diets for 12 weeks. Animal-based diet: 70% animal-source protein/30% plant-sourced protein; PLANT: 70% plant/30% animal; or 50/50: half animal-based, half plant-based.
At the end of the study, all the groups that replaced animal proteins with vegan bodybuilding diet had marked decreases in Vitamin B12 and iodine levels.(26) Before diagnosing yourself with a deficiency, always get blood work to confirm nutritional deficiencies.
How to Gain Lean Muscle on A Vegan Diet
A 2021 study shook up people who said that you couldn’t build muscle on a plant-based vegan bodybuilding diet. Researchers had untrained vegan athletes and matched them to a meat-based diet over a 12-week resistance training program. Both groups consumed 1.6 g/kg of protein per day.
Both groups were supplemented with protein powder to increase their daily protein intake [soy (vegan) and whey (omnivorous)]. The vegan group consumed a larger dose of soy protein (58 grams) daily than the meat-eating group consuming whey protein (40 grams). At baseline, the vegan group had lower iron levels, vitamin B12, and vitamin D levels, as expected.
Both groups had equal increases in lean mass and muscle strength following diet and resistance training at the end of the study. Regardless of the protein source, if consumed > 1.6g/kg per day, the results were similar. Interestingly, muscle mass was similar despite the meat-eating group having higher total EAAs, leucine, lysine, methionine, and BCAA than the vegan group.
Upon analysis of the dietary factors, both groups spread their protein across four meals per day, with each meal consistently yielding at least 0.3g/kg of protein and around 2-3g of leucine.(27) When essential amino acids are equal on diets, muscle fiber growth was similar.